When built the right way, a deck should last at least fifteen years before requiring repair or updates. Of course, this depends on the materials you’ve chosen to use to build your deck. And that’s why it’s so important to understand each product you use in your deck’s construction, from the wood or composite decking to the railings, footings, and fasteners.
However, when your deck is NOT built right because someone has cut corners or there’s a lack of knowledge, you will not only have a deck with a limited lifespan, but you (or your contractor) will be putting yourself, your family, and guests in danger.
Follow the Proper Approval Requirements in Your City or Town and Schedule a Safety Inspection
As mentioned in another article, the planning of your deck building project is just as important as the actual construction. The fact is, the building of a deck can be completed in a week or two, and sometimes less. But you should take at least that much time for the planning of the construction.
The planning should include not only researching the building codes and understanding what is required to build your deck the right way, but also utilizing the knowledge and expertise of your local building inspector.
Your local building department is responsible for the regulation and communication of deck building requirements, from the soil at the bottom of your footing to the width of your railings.
You should always submit your deck plans as accurately and with as much information as possible. This will allow your building inspector to provide feedback on your initial plans before a single footing is set, ensuring you are building to safety codes before the building process has begun.
If, by chance, your deck is not planned to code, you will receive instruction on what changes need to be made.
Once your plans are approved and you pay the permit fee, your inspector will either schedule site visits, or ask that you call at various phases, so the deck may be inspected. These site visits will often put your project on hold, depending on the inspectors availability, but are critical to ensuring your deck is built the right way from the start.
Don’t Cut Corners
Often, especially when a deck is being built on a budget, corners are often cut to not only save time, but to save money. When you start to add up the costs of all the required materials and it appears it’s going to cost more than expected, a do-it-yourselfer may look for ways to cut costs. This can include using less fasteners or brackets, framing with smaller pieces of lumber than is required (for example, purchasing a 2×6 joist vs a 2×8 that’s required), or not digging a footing to frost depth to save on the cost of concrete. (Note, the best way to save on the costs and labor is to use RediFooting deck footings, of course!)
Cutting corners to save time and money might seem like a good idea in the short term, but by doing so, you’ll be cutting the lifespan of your deck, and increasing the likelihood of a dangerous accident that can harm you and others using your deck.
Set Footings Below the Frost Line
The frost line in the depth at which the soil freezes in the ground. When footings aren’t set deep enough, especially in certain soils simply don’t drain well, they are susceptible to frost heave, running the risk of the footing being pushed up from the ground, increasing the risk of structural damage to a deck.
That’s why it’s essential the hole for a footing is dug below the frost line, so the bottom of a footing rests on soil that never freezes and helps avoid the problems that can occur when the frozen soil pushes up the footing.
Soil with excessive clay content tends to be more susceptible to frost heave, whereas more sandy, well-drained soils aren’t as prone to freezing to a point where the soil expands.
This is why it’s critical that holes for deck footings extend below the frost line.
Choose Proper Fasteners
One of the more common issues with poorly built decks is the use of nails instead of screws. Of course, the ease of hammering nails into wood compared to the often tedious labor involved in driving hundreds of screws is obvious. But that doesn’t make it the right choice.
You would think nails would be fine for framing or when attaching deck boards. Afterall, nails are used in house framing, and have been used for hundreds of years.
But the fact is, the framing of a house is not exposed to water and moisture. (At least it’s not supposed to be.) A deck, on the other hand, is exposed to all elements of weather 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That means the wood swells and shrinks, changing form from day-to-day, and from season to season. As these changes to the wood occur, the nails loosens and water is allowed into the holes. This causes the overall structure of the deck to weaken.
The fact is, nails are an inferior fastener compared to other available options, including screws that “bite” into the wood to create an everlasting hold.
But even if you choose to use screws over nails, keep in mind that all screws are not created equal. That’s why you’ll find so many options when it comes to buying fasteners. When building with today’s pressure treated lumber, the copper content in the wood can quickly corrode metals used to manufacture some available fasteners that at one time could be depended on to be corrosion-resistant.
It’s important to only use fasteners proven effective against corrosion. Using the wrong fastener for your deck building project can cause safety issues over time.